Right off the bat, we’re already greeted with one of the main issues that work against the record: The bland audio quality. The modern touch sounds crisp enough, the vocals are as you expect, but everything else often comes off limp in comparison outside of a few faster tracks on the Iron Maiden side of things. Even “Night Crawler” loses steam fairly early on, leaving the chugging chords of the main verses and even the guitar solo surprisingly bland against a chorus with a little extra enthusiasm. The only aspect that works is the slower pacing and growling at three-and-a-half minutes which genuinely plays up the horror fueled death metal realm of Six Feet Under perfectly. “Invader”, however, manages to breathe a little more life into the mix thanks to the faster drumming and additional hooks thrown in, though still doesn’t make it the most awe-inspiring conversion of the classic. There’s also some background clean singing for the hell of it that work and should be noted, but this also plays up a garage band sensation given how stale they end up behind Chris, not to mention makes you expect someone from Gwar to randomly show up and do so background vocals.
While “Night Crawler” is a somewhat promising track, it is followed by the most generic cover of “Starbreaker” you could ever hope for. Think Dismember if they didn’t care about the quality of their music, and you get this uninspiring rendition that is only saved by the bass lines still being infectious enough to overcome even the most yawn inducing passages here. Sadly, it only gets worse the deeper into the Judas Priest half you get, especially with “Genocide”, which just crawls along with this air of amateur musicians having just learned their instruments and having formed a cover band to get better to it. We know Six Feet Under can make the death ‘n roll approach work, but the rock aspect of the song just doesn’t translate well thanks to how this effort sounds. If they could record an engaging version of AC/DC‘s Back in Black in this style, there’s no reason this one should be as dull as it is.
Thankfully the Iron Maiden half manages to do a lot more with the barren audio than the first half does. “Murders in the Rue Morgue” immediately hits the listener with the shot of adrenaline this album so desperately needed. There’s no boredom to be found despite how the effort sounds, and it just seems like the band is even having a blast playing it, while the prior selections felt like teeth were being pulled more times than not. “Prowler” does take a dip into the slower pace, but the cleaner distortion and amount of grander hooks just feel like you’re listening to a straight-forward heavy metal band with a rougher vocal approach most of the time, and not something Six Feet Under recorded. Sadly, “The Evil That Men Do” has some god awful vocal layering that makes it sound like you have two Chris Barnes, one per ear, trying to harmonize their growls together starting from the first chorus. If this didn’t happen, you’d have another well done interpretation of the hit song. Thankfully this is the only fault to really be observed in these final six.
But the main reason that the Graveyard Classics series worked as well as it did is because Six Feet Under chose to take a number of non-metal tracks and slap some gutturals over them with a slight metal edge that always seemed like it had a satirical intent, something they opted out of in Graveyard Classics III, the most overlooked. It was interesting at the very least, and comically engaging at the most (or the worst). Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest, however, just takes songs that are already metal, slaps on Chris Barnes’ distinct vocal approach, and tries to liven them up with a modern finish which, coupled with mostly tame sounding performances outside said vocals, leave behind a number of unimpressive covers that other bands in the same genre have already made their own. One prime example is Arch Enemy‘s enthusiastic cover of “Starbreaker”, Disbelief‘s take on “Stranger in a Strange Land”, as well as the solid rendition of “Murders in the Rue Morgue” by In Flames. This isn’t to say Six Feet Under shouldn’t have gone through with this idea, but rather that it would have worked better as b-sides or just a random one-off EP instead of a full-fledged entry into this now long-running series.
And, really, this is where Graveyard Classics IV: The Number of the Priest really starts to break down, and it doesn’t take long to do so. When you hear the premise, one might consider it a cheap cash grab between albums and, well, when you hear it, you can’t help but feel the noble idea night have had another motive behind its creation. Of course it’s obvious Six Feet Under are trying to pay homage to two massively influential bands, and by doing so it kind of ruins why people love this series in the first place. Tack on a pretty lifeless audio quality and a small handful of songs that manage to capture the spirit of the originals, and you have a pretty bland recording of some otherwise solid performances that would have had a better impact if released as a separate four or five song EP instead of what really feels like something meant to bridge the gap between albums regardless of how noble the intent was. If you hated the Graveyard Classics releases before, or found mild amusement in the death ‘n roll approach, this incredibly boring played straight attempt only offers good renditions with no real originality.